Hizbullah and Elections

Qifa Nabki give us a fine analysis of the meaning of Hizbullah’s election campaign:

hizbposter3Everything suggests a shift of strategy by the Hizb towards emphasizing the themes of good governance, national unity, gradual reformism, and fighting corruption, while placing the military resistance on the back burner. In this context, one wonders whether the oft-asked question regarding the price for Hizbullah’s “integration” into Lebanese politics is a stale and irrelevant one, as it seems increasingly as though the Hizb is not waiting for anyone to make them an offer. Take a look at the campaign posters (above and left). The party’s famous Kalashnikov logo has been deliberately faded to contrast it with a bold-faced LEBANON, beneath three scratched-out titles: “your Lebanon,” “our Lebanon,” “their Lebanon.” It’s a strong message, and one which immediately brings to mind Saad al-Hariri’s promise to refuse joining a government of national unity after the elections…. (read the rest)

Lebanon’s Hezbollah savors increasing legitimacy
By Borzou Daragahi
As some Western nations seek contacts, Hezbollah’s No. 2, cleric Naim Qassem, says the group has ‘convinced the West it is a popular, authentic and important movement that cannot be ignored.’

To defeat Hezbollah, the US Defense Department has spent millions of dollars since the 2006 War. “I’ve organized five major games in the last two years, and all of them have focused on Hezbollah,” said Frank Hoffman, a research fellow at the [US] Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory in Quantico. From Wash Post.

“Lebanon’s sovereignty, democracy, prosperity and stability
are a priority for all of us,” insists U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon Michele Sison.



Hezbollah’s Head of Loyalty to the Resistance bloc MP Mohammad Raad takes US Ambassador Sison to task for insisting that Hizbullah represents a threat to Lebanon. He insists this does not jive with her call for independence and sovereignty. “Who is Sison to say that Hizbullah represents a threat to Lebanon and the region?” Raad asked, adding that Hizbullah was a threat to “all the Israeli schemes, plans and projects against Lebanon.”

Abu Muqawama explains why he believes Hizbullah has overreached in the Egyptian affair. Egypt is cracking down.

Damascus Stock Exchange plans to widen the 2 percent share-price limit: Damascus Exchange Trading Volume to Stay Limited Until End 2009
2009-04-13 – By Nadim Issa

April 13 (Bloomberg) — The Damascus Securities Exchange won’t have major trading volume until the end of 2009 because of the limited number of listed companies and investors, said Mohammad al-Jleilati, chief executive officer of the bourse.

Volume will remain low until the exchange reaches around 20 listed companies compared with seven now traded, al-Jleilati said by phone from Damascus. Less than 200 investors have opened accounts with brokers in Syria since the exchange started trading, he added.

The exchange, which started trading shares March 10 and is open twice a week, has since struggled to attract liquidity. Brokerages say the share fluctuation limit, set at 2 percent per trading day, has curtailed volume and are hoping the regulation will be revised.

The DSE planned to widen the 2 percent share-price trading band as soon as market conditions permit, al-Jleilati said.

“There is no problem with the trading limit since the listed companies are witnessing a rise in their prices every trading day,” Jleilati said. “None has declined since the opening of the bourse.”

He added that shareholders also are unlikely to sell their holdings until they collect dividends approved at general shareholder meetings in March and April, further limiting trading.

Four companies rose today to the limit of their trading band, while Bank of Syria & Overseas, Bank Audi-Syria and Banque Bemo Saudi Fransi didn’t trade. The value of shares traded in the ten transactions executed on the four companies reached 925,690 Syrian pounds ($19,800), according to the exchange’s daily bulletin.

Can the US put Pressure on Israel? Stephen Walt in FP.

“….This idea appears to be gaining ground. Several weeks ago, a bipartisan panel of distinguished foreign policy experts headed by Henry Siegman and Brent Scowcroft issued a thoughtful report calling for the Obama administration to “engage in prompt, sustained, and determined efforts to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict.” Success, they noted, “will require a careful blend of persuasion, inducement, reward, and pressure…” Last week, the Economist called for the United States to reduce its aid to Israel if the Netanyahu government continues to reject a two-state solution. The Boston Globe offered a similar view earlier this week, advising Obama to tell Netanyahu “to take the steps necessary for peace or risk compromising Israel’s special relationship with America.” A few days ago, Ha’aretz reported that the Obama Administration was preparing Congressional leaders for a possible confrontation with the Netanyahu government. .. [he provides a number of ways to pressure Israel]

Imad Moustapha’s interview on CNN this week:Embedded video from CNN Video

Jerusalem Post: Syrian envoy prefers Lieberman to Livni. 2009-04-12

LEBANON-SYRIA: Wretched conditions for Syrian workers: Syrians in Lebanon remain the last unregulated labour force
By Brooke Anderson

BEIRUT, 13 April 2009 (IRIN) – Rights and labour groups say almost all the estimated 300,000 Syrians working in Lebanon have no official status, often endure dangerous conditions, and earn about US$300 a month doing jobs shunned by most Lebanese.

In 2006, the Labour Ministry issued just 471 work permits to Syrian nationals, meaning the remainder worked unregistered. According to 2008 research by Beirut-based InfoPro, over 75 percent of Syrians in Lebanon work in construction, 15 percent are cleaners and bin men, and 10 percent hawkers.

About 15 percent of Syria’s workforce is in Lebanon. They often either live on the construction site where they work or share tiny flats with a dozen other workers.

René Matta, general manager of Matta Contracting, a Lebanese company whose workforce is 70 percent Syrian, said Syrian labour in Lebanon “should be more organised, so that people aren’t oppressed”…..

Many Syrians in Lebanon have been attacked, robbed, beaten and sometimes killed over the past four years.

Despite the recent opening of an embassy in Beirut, few Syrian labourers in Lebanon think their labour rights and personal safety will be protected any time soon.


“If something happened to me, who would I complain to?” asked Eide, an 18-year-old Syrian construction worker who has been living and working in Lebanon for 10 months. Eide said he lives in daily fear of attack by anti-Syrian Lebanese gangs: “It’s not unusual for Lebanese to ask for our ID cards on the street and then take our money because we’re Syrian.”….

Nadim Houry, senior researcher for Human Rights Watch (HRW) in Beirut, … “It’s part of Lebanon’s history,” said Houry. “Syrian workers have become scapegoats because they’re perceived as weak. There is an issue of discrimination in Lebanon towards those of lower socio-economic status. They look down upon poor people from rural areas. It’s a sort of socio-economic racism.”

In its 2 January edition, Al-Akhbar, one of the few Lebanese newspapers to regularly cover the issue, reported that a Syrian worker was robbed at gunpoint by a member of the Lebanese military in civilian clothing. In late December 2008, the same newspaper reported a Syrian had been killed during a robbery near Byblos. In the same month, a Syrian worker of Kurdish origin was found hanged in his own shoe shop in Bar Elias in the Bekaa Valley, eastern Lebanon.

Many incidents go unreported. In interviews with 10 Syrian workers at construction sites throughout Beirut, all said they had been victims of robberies and occasional beatings by Lebanese; all said it had been because they are Syrian; none said they had reported the incidents to the authorities.

“I don’t have any Lebanese friends. I never have,” said one Syrian construction worker. “Why should I? They don’t like us.”

Comments (137)

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101. majid said:

With regards to Hamas question, the one you consider serious, would an Israeli government make a public statement acknowledging the wrongs done to the Palestinians as a result of the creation of Israel, publicly assuming responsibility for these wrongs and at the same time make a public plea to the other side, as you put it, to acknowledge Israel as a prelude to serious engagement?

It would be a breakthrough on the same scale as the Sadat’s visit to Jerusalem without the theatrics. It would also look like the first serious Isareli initiative for peace. And it would pre-empt (AP’s favorite word) the radicals among the Palestinians and provide basis for their leadership(s) to break the deadlock without having to worry about getting undermined.

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April 17th, 2009, 12:57 am


102. trustquest said:

Nour, Off the wall,
This regime is not a result of successive events or social condition; it is a result of vendetta and hate monger group with power. The irrational behavior is when anyone covers for irrational behavior. I’m not attacking your party but you are not listening to public at all, you are living in your tower and you did not learn. A party with more than 75 years of work and have 50 members is not something to brag about. Your party is outdated in all facets of national street feeling. If there is any improvement in Syria in the last 20 years, please give credit where is should be, the hard working emigrants of people of Syria occupying the whole globe after they could get loose from the tight hands of the dictator (evidence are all Syrian commentator on this blog), productive, and they did not forget their country by giving back while the thugs are benefiting inside ( look at the number of Syrians outside).
The subject was facebook and you came along defending the moth piece and attacking me, questioning my intensions for showing her true color and her snake eating habits which did not change.
Off the wall, first save me the Machiavellian ways of explaining the obvious (you have already called them thugs before I did), second I’m offended of you defending the eternal regime blocking of facebook, and will never go or send my child to a university you work at, and if I have to, I will show your words to the dean of the college you are working at.

Please guys save yourselves the long responses, for a lot of people it is very simple and very clear. As I said I have no vendetta against anyone, but 5 years ago, I was reading:
I will add the passage later on the comment, as I said I was reading in front of my CPA, and he asked me, what the GDP for Syria at the time of the article, I searched it and I found that GDP was $54 billions in 2001 and the country budget is $5 billion.
My CPA told me, this is not corruption, this is even not theft, it is something goes beyond treason and theft, this the highest criminal order for man kind. I think most the commentators on this forum are illiterate about numbers and the difference between million and billion. The thugs seized double the GDP by 2001 and left the country high and dry and you still want to defend them.
Here is the passage:

هذا الغامض ليس غامضاً تماماًً، إنهم أصحاب المليارات الذين أصبحوا يمتلكون مليارات الدولارات خارج هذا القطر، ليس من رواتبهم وليس من أرباح مشروعاتهم، لكن أحداً لم يسألهم كيف ومن أين ؟ بل إن أحداً لم يسألهم كيف تحمّل ضميركم أن تفعلوا بشعبكم وباقتصادكم الوطني وبدولتكم ما فعلتم بحرمانهم من كل شروط الحياة والتقدم والنماء والازدهار، وإيداع حصيلة هذا الحرمان عشرات المليارات من الدولارات عداً ونقداً في جيوب المؤسسات الإمبريالية الصهيونية ؟ ومع ذلك يزايدون علينا بالوطنية، ويتهموننا بأننا نحن الذين سنستقدم الإمبريالية والصهيونية.. نحن وليس هم الذين أهدوها على الأقل مائة مليار دولار من ثروة ومداخيل الشعب السوري، وهذا الرقم يعادل خمسة أضعاف كل الاستثمارات الإنتاجية في سورية. ففي السياسة المالية مهمة أية دولة، أية سلطة وأي نظام هي تنمية قوى الإنتاج الوطنية، أي الارتقاء بقوى الإنتاج عاماً بعد آخر، لكن أن نجد قوى الإنتاج في سورية اليوم عام 2001 أضعف بكثير من قوى الإنتاج في عام 1980 فهذه حالة لا يمكن تفسيرها بأية نية طيبة على الإطلاق

Now dear Nour and dear Off the wall,
If you find that this guy is crazy, please provide me with some evidence contrary to what he is saying. And if you still want to follow those thugs, listen to them or to their mouth pieces such as Shaaban, also go ahead, but please do not force me to argue with your prisms and how to look at thing. A human tragedy and a catastrophe on this level happen once in the life of the nation.

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April 17th, 2009, 1:37 am


103. Nour said:


I see you’re getting very emotional in your responses, and I would like to keep this a logical discussion. You are asking us to look at things reasonably and logically and yet you throw out a comment like our party has 75 years of history and only 50 members. Do you seriously believe we only have 50 members?

Moreover, I am not disputing Aref Dalila’s contentions, nor would I deny that the regime has nurtured rampant corruption and theft all across the state. But first, to make the implication that Syria is the only country suffering from such conditions is academically dishonest. You know very well that many countries, especially those in our region, suffer from similar situations, living under corrupt and dictatorial regimes that are most definitely due to successive events and particular social circumstances.

Second, in no country is the government’s budget equal to the annual GDP. So while I do not in anyway dispute that members of the regime have stolen the people’s money outright, things still need to be put in perspective. Last year the United States’ GDP was $14.29 trillion, and yet the annual budget for 2009 is $3.60 trillion, i.e. about 25% of GDP. Also I would look into whether the $51 billion dollar mark you cited is an absolute figure or merely purchasing power parity. For example, last year Syria’s purchasing power parity GDP was $95.36 billion whereas the actual GDP was $44.49 billion. And the budget for 2008 was about $12 billion, which is about 27% of GDP, and therefore comparable to the US’s budget to gdp ratio.

Finally, I didn’t criticize you because you attacked Buthaina Shaaban. I don’t really care if you attack her or any member of the regime; I would probably agree with most of your issues with them. I merely was questioning your reinforcement of AP’s girls biting snakes comment which was intended as an insult to Syrians in general. I was suggesting that you should be careful not to lose credibility with the people when you make valid and just criticisms of the government.

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April 17th, 2009, 3:23 am


104. EHSANI2 said:


This guy as you call him does not make sense. He claims that GDP in 2001 is “much lower” than it was in 1980. What does this mean? GDP growth rate is lower? Or is it actual GDP in Dollar terms that that is lower? Frankly, the guy is not accurate or precise when it comes to discussing the subject. Incidentally, where did you find Syria’s GDP to be $54 billion in 2001 (hopefully you have the correct currency as a base and not some PPP methodology)? I believe that this number is inaccurate.

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April 17th, 2009, 3:42 am


105. Off the Wall said:

You are absolutely correct. I may have prematurely reacted. Sorry for that. Also for the contribution of others, I fully join you on that issue and thank you for bringing it up. But i still stand by my point that the petty competition, which shows up every once in a while, is at best, petty. What I would love to see is every Arab town becoming a center for artistic and scientific progress.

I will only answer the hard question because it is more relevant to our discussion of today. First, I do not think that the two states solution is valid anymore for reasons that we can later discuss. Yet, I will follow the assumption that a solution agreeable to the majority of the Palestinians is reached and a truly independent state emerges as a result. Can I guarantee that a minority will not act to counter that. My simple answer is no and no one can, same as you can’t guarantee full protection from crimes inside either country and same as Israel has failed to stop the rocket through mighty power. However, what can be guaranteed, and should be required by both sides, is a commitment to making the price for doing that heavy at individual level and to establish committees and mechanisms, similar to those established by equal states for addressing grievances like that when they arise. One way would be to imagine a comprehensive peace agreement that includes the development of constitutional amendments or legal arrangements in all involved states that forbids the use of their respective territories to prepare for, or to launch, by themselves or by others, any attack or actions to sabotage the security and internal peace of any other signatory except in the case of direct invasion. Also should be agreed on is the complete rejection of unilateral actions, along with enforcement mechanisms. This is a true non aggression agreement as opposed to a cessation of hostilities agreement. It may not be in the first deal, but it should be discussed openly. If referendums on such laws are held simultaneously, can you imagine the majority in any country rejecting them. Again, commissions and mechanisms can be established and their shape and forms are way above my current pay grade as a commenter. One of the ways Israel can get true cooperation from Palestinians, in addition to what Majid has mentioned, is to demonstrate a commitment to dealing with them as equals, to recognize nationally and individually (at least in a majority) their rights. Let me say it bluntly, they have many more reasons to fear Israel than Israel has to fear them.

Given the state of rhetorical belligerence between Israel and Iran, and the potentially explosive situation, I believe that Iran must now become a party of any deal. I know many in the Arab world will find that hard to swallow, but we can not allow the current state of affairs to continue.

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April 17th, 2009, 4:11 am


106. Yossi (AKA Rumyal) said:


I see the equivalence you’re making and it makes sense to me: the declarative belligerency of Hamas’ talk is matched by the declarative belligerency of Israel’s silence on past and present injustices. It’s a good argument.

Yes I think that such a step from Israel will be extremely important, not just for the Palestinians but for the Israelis too. Yuli Tamir, when she was education minister, expressed herself to this effect and even added the Nakba to the curriculum. Bibi declared on the day of his victory he’s going to remove any mention of the Nakba from the curriculum. One step forward two step backwards…

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April 17th, 2009, 4:25 am


107. Alex said:

Dear Off the Wall,

How are we doing on the other project? : )

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April 17th, 2009, 4:33 am


108. Yossi (AKA Rumyal) said:


What Israelis fear about such deals is that they are potentially made from a point of insincerity and hence those “individual criminals” will be covertly supported by the Palestinian government which will make a sham out of any enforcement articles in the agreement. In reality, Israel will not make a generous offer, they will bargain to the last inch of land, and therefore consensus on the Palestinian side will be weak, perhaps this is another way to say that a stable two-way solution is unlikely. If we consider the one-state solution, it is also fraught with risks for the Jewish population. There are risks on the path to peace for all parties involved and we shouldn’t belittle them. Empathy is the first step towards true peace.

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April 17th, 2009, 4:45 am


109. Majid said:

OTW said, “Given the state of rhetorical belligerence between Israel and Iran, and the potentially explosive situation, I believe that Iran must now become a party of any deal. I know many in the Arab world will find that hard to swallow, but we can not allow the current state of affairs to continue.”

No, Iran is not required to be part of any deal. The Arabs, aside from Syria of course, will ONLY stand with Iran IF attacked by Israel. But they will never allow Iran to be part of what is properly considered an Arab/Israeli conflict. Iran has no real business as far as the Palestinian issue is concerned or other issues concerning this Arab/Israeli conflict. The general perception in the region, spare me Syria’s POV please, is that Iran’s engagement in the Palestinian issue is not genuine and is only used as a subversive tool for its own agenda. Of course, there is an Islamic dimension to the Arab/Israeli conflict but it would be wrong to emphasize it more than it should be emphasized otherwise you’re opening the door wide for an insatiable fundamentalist appetite that would only serve to eventually undermine the whole effort. When the Palestinian problem is settled, and of course the Syrian Golan, as part of a comprehensive agreement, Iran will have very little room to maneuver outside its borders where it should be properly confined. The belligerence talk of the Iranian government will be a shout in a vacuum after a deal is reached and it would quickly learn to either tone it down or eliminate it altogether from its political discourses.

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April 17th, 2009, 7:02 am


110. Off the Wall said:

Off the wall, first save me the Machiavellian ways of explaining the obvious (you have already called them thugs before I did)

The context in which you posted the comment did not indicate whether or not it was obvious to you.

second I’m offended of you defending the eternal regime blocking of facebook, and will never go or send my child to a university you work at, and if I have to, I will show your words to the dean of the college you are working at.

This is a loaded statement. First, I did not defend the action, but you seem to disallow anything other than cursing the regime in any discussion. You obviously have a rigid litmus test on patriotism that you have been applying to SC commentators, where have I seen that before. Ah, Syria for the past 47 years.

What I wrote is in no way a defense. It is a purely technical explanation of what I perceive as the expressed motive for this specific action, and an attempt to distinguish it from any other apparently similar actions that are motivated by what I called obsessive control (mistaken for governance). This leads me to accept Shaaban’s explanation, not because I do or don’t trust her, but because I could not reject her explanation. And yet, I later follow on by saying the action is dumb. But again, you read what you want to read. I owe you no appology for not following your rigid definition of acceptable format for agreeing or disagreeing with the Syrian government.

As for your threat, which I will not take seriously, for I have seen what anger, hate, enabled by anonymity, can drive people, including myself, to write. I just want to say after what you just wrote, you have greatly diminished the credibility of you branding anyone vindictive. What you wrote is a call to ail the American educational system with the same ailments that those you call vindictive have brought on to Syrian universities. That is shortsighted, at best.

While I agree with you that remittance from emigrants has a role in financing improvements, I sure hope that you are not dismissing the hard work of those who remained inside. All of the Syrian artists who mesmerized a couple of thousand people in the concert hall studied in Syria. One of them now lives in the US, but he came here because of the skills he developed in Syria. Are you saying that the countless musicians, novelists, poets, painters, artisans (whose skills are regaining their former fame), actors, and directors are not entitled to any credit.

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April 17th, 2009, 7:06 am


111. Off the Wall said:


That was thoughtful comment. I can’t disagree with the principle argument. But how can one prevent Iran from playing a spoiler role without a major catastrophe. Iran has on many occasions indicated that if the Palestinian Issue is addressed, they will cease and desist any belligerent action. If that is the case, then including Iran a comprehensive regional arrangement will be beneficial. Under such agreement Iran, same as anyone else, is bounded not to do what it is now doing. Please note that I am advocating fundamental paradigm shift, under which all involved countries are tying peace and non-interference directly to their sovereignty. Wouldn’t that be a positive development.

Personally, I prefer to see the Jewish-Islamic dimension of the Arab Israeli conflict be eliminated completely. And the last thing I want is to give that dimension any further fuel. In 20 or 30 years from now, what we are seeing in Turkey will be repeated in reverse in Iran. Secular movements will gain power (analoguous to the growth of Islamic parties in Turkey) and this will be enabled under the imperfect but semi-functional democratic arrangement. The clerics will probably be reduced to a council of elders that maintains a very broad, but weakening Islamic direction despite of a couple of possible interim take-over. But Iran will remain a country with great potential and a country determined to have its interests guarded and its needs addressed. Even under the Shah, Iran had its agenda and worked actively to ensure that its national agenda, which is not much different from its current national agenda, is achieved. I do not think that this is the official Syrian POV, but it is the pragmatic one.

Iran is already outside its borders. Its presence in Lebanon, Syria, or Palestine is minimal compared to its presence in Iraq, which is the real pie that was handed to Iran on a silver plate by Bush and Co. It will be very long before a nationalist movement in Iraq materializes that can confront Iran and ensure that whatever interests it has are not at the expense of Iraq. This is also an important issue. Iraq has been sidelined from the Arab Israeli conflict, but how long would that last after the US forces withdraw and the puppet government falls or is replaced by a government even more lock and step with Iran?

Finally, it is the impotence of the so called moderate regimes that strengthened the resistance camp and gave Iran increased credential. They have failed to deliver what they promised they can deliver through moderation. Lately, it even got ugly as they committed the cardinal sin in the eyes of most Arabs and Muslims by siding with Israel against the Gazans and before them against Lebanon. Their shortsightedness and desperate attempt to gain American favors did them no good. The current Egyptian fiasco against HA will only have a temporary effect, which will evaporate at the first sign of further Israeli aggression against Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, or Iran. With Natenyahu at the helm, that is an almost assured thing. It is only a matter of when.

In summary, I believe that like any country, Iran has legitimate interests in its region. Attempting to contain Iran instead of working with her, especially on legitimate issues is a belligerent act no one can afford.

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April 17th, 2009, 8:14 am


112. Off the Wall said:

Distracted a little, as you can see.
Back to work. Thanks for the reminder

Fully agree, Empathy is very important. I served for few years as an Ombudsman (before TQ called my dean :)). And we were trained, very heavily to leave sympathy out and to bring only empathy and the ability to listen as the two primary skills we needed. This proved to be absolutely true in any attempt to broker a deal, especially in the most contentious and power asymmetric situations.

I have to leave now. Talk later.

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April 17th, 2009, 8:35 am


113. majid said:

You’re blowing the Iran issue completely out of proportion. What legitimate interests does Iran have anywhere in the region? Historically, what did Iran do to the Palestinian issue? How can you be certain Iran will follow Turkey (assuming Turkey is a good model to emulate) in 20 to 30 years? Are you aware that this Iranian movement (let’s call it Khomeini movement for lack of better word) can be traced historically to at least 500 years and it is deeply rooted? What would Iran be able to do once the problem is resolved to undermine the situation? Nothing. The only States that are of relevance to the conflict are: Israel, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt and Saudi Arabia – that is the countries that are geographically adjacent to the conflict. Even the rest of the Arab countries is a mere decor that would be included only for the sake fulfilling the requirement of Israeli integration into the Arab world for the purpose of trade, economic, cultural activities etc. Iran cannot be part of this arrangement. There is already a movement which started in Morocco and now moving into Egypt and eventually will sweep to the Gulf that will eliminate any attempt by the current regime of Iran to expand its so-called revolution outside its borders. It is not temporary as you like to think. Iran has done nothing to the Palestinians except undermining their movement. Syria and Lebanon should also take steps to terminate any Iranian influence outside what is considered normal relations among States. In other words, Iranian incursions into these States were due to circumstances that will no longer be relevant after their causes have been dealt with. Iran is acting in contravention of State sovereignties and this is something that should not be allowed to become an acceptable norm. Asking Iran to become a signatory to a regional arrangement in these circumstances would be rewarding it unduly for such behavior.

You also mention “Iraq has been sidelined from the Arab Israeli conflict, but how long would that last after the US forces withdraw and the puppet government falls or is replaced by a government even more lock and step with Iran?”

I would say this is a hypothetical question at the moment.

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April 17th, 2009, 8:57 am


114. Karim said:

Ehsani look at this graph ,i think that you are harsh on Aref Dalila’s paper.Yes it seems that syrian economy has stagnated for the last 2,5 decades.


What make us angry is that in 1980 we had an higher GDP /capita than Turkey and from 2 to 4 times higher than Egyptian ,Tunisian and Morrocan ones ,today we are behind them and the Turkish GDP per capita from 4 times more important than ours,and you have on the graph the GDP per capita evolution compared to that of South Korea.

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April 17th, 2009, 1:04 pm


115. Karim said:

Dr Landis some years ago asked two economists on this matter ,and the answer was between stagnation and regression.

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April 17th, 2009, 1:12 pm


116. Karim said:

Majid and OTW ,the opinion of both regarding the Israeli Arab conflict make sense .

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April 17th, 2009, 1:20 pm


117. trustquest said:

Nour, the exaggerated number of 50 is for sizing your party as not effective on the scenery of politic in Syria, and I did not mean any insult. Citing with AP is not a shame or opportunist, fact should be respected.
Off the wall: I think I need badly the course you described so I can lose empathy with people emotion as they express their outrage to rape on the national level.

Ehsani, the number I cited was taken from the factbook:
The numbers does not add up, I agree and you have said that before that the numbers coming from Syria are not accurate and most of the times do not makes sense. The GUY is doing his best and my aim from numbers is the relativity between steeling (or borrowing) and the budget, and the moral stand for the level of theft and national stand. I believe in moral standing, and yes I’m emotional, that I would not accept to listen to amoral lecture from the people who rapped my mother. In the National Syrian Censes on their site, the GDP for 2001 is 974008 millions Syrian pounds, which translate to $19.4 billion. The $54 billion is the PPP. In my view it is not a matter of state plagued with corruption it is a matter of a country deprived of liquidity and deprived of scalability of wealth which necessary for state function. I might have problem to overcome this matter and other subjects might cloud this matter as one part of the problem but I do see it as the whole problem which reflects on all other issue, as I believe it is all about money. But I know that me and you look at thing from two different prospective. I think part of the solution to would be a forthcoming of those issues and keep it out in the open to deal with it. The check of reality on the regime regarding his previous and current actions is what could put him in the defensive and might make him reasonable and it would push him for change, accountability and transparency. So, as you see our aim may be mutual but our ways is different.

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April 17th, 2009, 1:31 pm


118. EHSANI2 said:


You initially indicated that Syria’s GDP was $54 billion in 2001 and that the country’s budget is $5 billion. You then stated the following:

“The thugs seized double the GDP by 2001 and left the country high and dry and you still want to defend them.”

Now, you revised the 2001 GDP to $ 19.4 billion (64% drop from the initial drop). I still don’t understand your thesis with respect to the budget to GDP ratio.

Suppose that there are indeed “thugs” with their hands in the treasury coffers, do you really think that they will keep a trace that you and I will be able to calculate and nail down as easily as you portray the situation? Is it so easy that your American CPA was able to figure out that this “goes beyond treason and theft”?

Is there corruption in Syria?

Yes, of course. However, you portray a picture where “people” just dip their hands in the cookie jar and grab a billion here and a billion there and if you look at the treasury’s ledger you can easily follow the money trail. This is false.

What does happen is that the state is starved of taxation revenues due to a massive cash based economy that operates outside the ability of the tax system. This benefit is enjoyed by almost every wealthy and established family-operated business and not only the “thugs”.

Another way the state loses is through uncompetitive tenders and contracts that go to the most connected rather than the highest bidder.

The corruption that is so widespread is also due to the incredibly low salaries of the country’s civil servants. Even mother Theresa will find it hard to resist the temptation of receiving a bribe if she had to live on $160 a month with three kids in Damascus. We must not be shocked to observe the level of corruption in Syria.We ought to be shocked if we did not notice any.

I don’t envy Syria’s treasury. On the one hand, it is starved of tax revenues from a public (mainly the wealthy) that refuses to accept the idea of paying taxes without receiving services. On the other hand, the state is expected to offer food, electricity and gasoline subsidies. It is also expected to educate every citizen for free both at school at university levels. In spite of all this, the public perception is still that it provides no services hence the refusal to pay.

Syria’s main problem is a bloated public sector with the state being in the business of running close to 250 businesses. Only 8 of those make any money (telecommunication and oil). This creates a massive drain on the budget.

The country will not turn the corner unless the public sector slims down by getting rid of its nonperforming assets. Fixing this sector is not possible in spite of government assurances to the contrary.

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April 17th, 2009, 2:30 pm


119. norman said:

Happy independence day to Syria and all Syrians,

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April 17th, 2009, 2:57 pm


120. majid said:

George Mitchel, US envoy to the ME and who is currently in the ME, declares that a COMPREHENSIVE Middle East peace is a US national interest specifically for the purpose of curbing Iran and dealing with its nuclear program.

HAARETZ reports that the Obama administration is preparing to launch a US initiative for mE peace based on the Arab Beirut-2002 initiative.

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April 17th, 2009, 3:12 pm


121. EHSANI2 said:


You are 100% correct. Syria’s GDP growth rate has been vastly inadequate. Unless it almost doubles from its current growth trajectory, standards of living on a per capita basis will keep falling. In order to accomplish this, a decisive turn must be made with the way the economy is structured. I am not so sure that the leadership is ready to go down that path. Instead it seems to want to proceed slowly and cautiously into what it calls economic reform.
Incidentally, when did I ever speak harshly on Mr. Dalila?

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April 17th, 2009, 3:36 pm


122. trustquest said:

Ehsani, if you are asking which number is right, I’ll tell you, I don’t know I did not make these numbers and I told you the numbers coming from different sources do not match in case of Syria, this is what you voiced before, this is what Dr. Daliah is saying in his lecture I refer to. But I based his number of $100 billion (borrowed by borrowers) outside Syria by 2001 by small group of people as not a fact but as a reference, and I don’t care if it is $100 B or $80 B, or I care about is the relativity of this number to the annual budget and the GDP (PPP) which I picked from Factbook as $54 billions. This means that at least twice the national GDP (PPP), out of the market, the question to you now what that mean and what are the consequences in this case. I know they did not put their hands in the cookie jar and I know that these huge sums created mainly through that steady period of unquestioning and “Jizia” like collection. And believe me the issue for me is not how they made the fortune the issue what is next?

My theory is that if you take the richest man in the US, my boss Mr. Buffett, $62 billions, has international corporations and spectrum of companies, and compare his wealth to the GDP (PPP) $14.3 trillions it would be of the annual spending budget it would be in the range of 0.004. Three are tons of rich people in the US on all scales of the pyramid, that move economy on all levels.

But if you take one of those not bloated as you said but rather, excuse me for not finding better word, lets say collector, who we have known by published documents from government of his wealth. He was a teacher and then in government position because of his brother and when he died, considering only his cash mainly outside the country, the percentage would be like 0.1 of the $54 B or %100 of the annual budget of the 2005 when they announce his wealth.

If we consider the other fact of scalability of wealth for each group of wealth we also find voids in the system that will never spark the economic engine, it will mute them. The other fact is that those cases deprive the state from liquidity which produced during sometime in it history and now is moving on one leg from 8 legs. You might say life goes on, I tell it might but zombie like life. This imbalance I think never happened with Saddam Hussen regime or any other regime in the area, relatively. This is his vulnerability set with him. This regime can not give out power, can not share power in fear of openness, can not use it since it will create imbalance ( the one who did are under big public pressure), can not get rid of the fortune, he has to move very slowly and try to stop time and hold ground on present.

Ehsani, Amen to what said above, I do not dispute any of what you are saying but I’m trying to add another factors and look from different angles to current economic situation which is seems to me is locked because of those factors I’m pointing to.
BTW, the article about Bothaina and comments has been wiped out and Syria news apologies for publishing the news.
Happy independance day,

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April 17th, 2009, 4:55 pm


123. Off the Wall said:


Large scale corruption also slows GDP growth due to lost opportunity and the removal of sizable amount of cash from productive circulation.

Not that I know the difference between a million and a billion :), the figure mentioned by TQ is close to the one of many numbers provided by the UN statistics division, but as you and Nour suspected it is the PPP adjusted number. I went online to the UN economic statistics division to check the growth. There are few estimates for each country including UN, and the WB with the latter showing higher values than the former. For Syria, interesting is the lack of stable trend in GDP growth. Years of sizeable growth ( > 4%) can easily be followed by a year or two of negative growth. There were a couple of 25% growth per hear outliers in 1972 and in the early sixties. Same can be also said about BOP, but that always fluctuates even in richer countries. And has been positive for some reasonable stretched of time although not in 2004 and 2005, the last two years on record in the data base.

I can send Alex and Joshua few graphs to post later this weekend after I am done with few other issues if it is of interest to anyone.

I fully agree with you about Taxation. The problem is that unless the citizens are involved, at some level, in decisions regarding these services, they will never view them as services. Hence refusal to pay taxes. The rich do not consider these as needed services, since they send their kids to private schools and now private universities. (I am not against either). I remember local election lists, both independents and front parties seldom provided any local level programs. It is all about national issues. Politics is always local, and unless the Syrian government manage to bring local politics back to the local level, the social contract will be a distant irrelevant issue.

Wages are also important as you have described. Slimming the public sector is a good step, but it must also be accompanied by opening up opportunities to private sector to partake in managing, not necessarily owning public sector entities that have potential of being profitable and productive. I was very pleased to know that MBA programs do exist in Syria and that MBA graduates were in demand a couple of years back by some private sector companies and at rather decent wages. I was also impressed that a few companies were also looking to hire operations research grads, which is an incredible thing IMHO.

I am typing this on a computer manufatured by a company (lenovo) that is owned largely by the Chinese government, but it is managed by a fully independent board, with the government exercising nothing more than its rightful authority as the largest share holder, and even that is being done through independent investment firms. It does not appoint managers, engineers, or workers. Lenovo continues to be a profitable company never mind share value fluctuation, which is as normal as the air we breath. It took china a couple of decades to transition, but this provides a model for some (not all) of the public sector companies in Syria.

Finally, and this is not in defense of the regime, I think comparing individual developmental index between countries is not always sufficient. Are you aware of some composite indices that make it easier to compare two or three countries. One should not only look at per-capita GDP for it does not tell much about the actual share distribution. A healthy economy should continuously show a growth in middle class income, and i was unable to find any stats on that issue. I find that per-capita GDP index rather inaccurate especially in developing countries with sizable, yet unquantified proportion of the population being below the UN poverty line. Median income is probably more accurate, but it still is only a single point on a uni-variate distribution. I am more inclined to use joint probability distributions of income level and share of GDP if such statistics make any economic sense?. Do they?

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April 17th, 2009, 5:37 pm


124. Karim said:

when did I ever speak harshly on Mr. Dalila?

Ehsani bey ,i could be wrong ,i dont have an infaillible memory but i remember that you criticized him some months ago or was it Michel Kilo ?
If my memory betrayed me plz accept my excuses.

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April 17th, 2009, 6:20 pm


125. Shai said:

Very interesting piece about a psychologist that interviewed / interrogated Sheikh Yassin and Samir Kuntar in prison for years: http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1078849.html

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April 17th, 2009, 6:27 pm


126. Yossi (AKA Rumyal) said:


Thanks for the discussion and I hope we haven’t distracted you too much, it sounds like you’re up to something important 🙂

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April 17th, 2009, 7:14 pm


127. Karim said:

OTW ,you are right ,but if we look at more accurate indicators,,like the per capita GDP(PPP),the PNUD indicator,the transparency index,business indicators,freedom indicators, the situation is almost the same.

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April 17th, 2009, 7:56 pm


128. EHSANI2 said:


It was Mr. Kilo and not Mr. Dalila that I commented on months ago.

Dear Off The Wall,

Nirvana for economies is a world in which productivity growth rates are high. A country enjoys higher standards of living when it grows at its potential. The word potential is derived from the following:

Labor force growth + Productivity growth = Potential real GDP growth.

In the case of the U.S. its 1% +2% = 3%. So long as the U.S. economy can grow at 3.0% or higher (on a real inflation adjusted basis), standards of living are increasing while new entrants in the labor force are absorbed and have a job ready for them as they seek it. Since measured inflation in the U.S is around 2%, this means that nominal GDP growth at 5.0% (3% real + 2% inflation) is that country’s nirvana situation.

Syria’s labor growth is of course much higher. So is the inflation rate. Productivity is hardest to measure but I suspect is rather low. This is why people feel like they are falling behind. Failing to grow at potential means those entering the labor force cannot find the jobs they seek (estimated at 250,000 a year).

China has figured that their potential growth rate is close to 8%. The leadership there decided that only by growing at that pace will the country hit that sweet spot of growing fast enough to raise standards living but not too fast to increase inflation.

Productivity is incidentally the ability to produce an extra unit of output/income with the same labor and other inputs of production.

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April 17th, 2009, 8:16 pm


129. Off the Wall said:

Thank you very much for the excellent tutorial. It is now much easier for me to read these numbers.

Yes, unfortunately. There is a need for a paradigm shift.

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April 17th, 2009, 10:56 pm


130. Yossi said:

Emanuel: Make A Deal At All Costs


…“In the next four years, there is going to be a permanent status arrangement between Israel and the Palestinians on the basis of two states for two peoples, and it doesn’t matter to us at all who is prime minister,” Mr. Emanuel was quoted as having said.

Mr. Emanuel’s words have been publicized amid reports the Obama administration has also informed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Mr. Obama will not be able to meet with him early next month during his scheduled appearance at the American Israel Political Action Committee’s (AIPAC) annual conference in Washington, D.C.

Mr. Netanyahu had hoped to capitalize on the opportunity and meet with Mr. Obama during the annual conference, but the Americans informed the Israelis that Mr. Obama was not going to be “in town.”…


The settlers already started calling Rahm not to betray “his people”. They’re living in another planet.

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April 18th, 2009, 4:11 am


131. majid said:


Not time to open Champaign yet. But it is time for little enjoyment. She surprised everyone despite all odds but she had a dream with an extraordinary voice and she was just an amateur. And it is also for you AP. So come on in. Join the dreamers. Over 12 million watched this YouTube already


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April 18th, 2009, 6:06 am


132. Akbar Palace said:

The settlers already started calling Rahm not to betray “his people”.


The 78% of Jews who voted for Barack Obama (John Kerry and Al Gore with similar percentages) believe they all doing a “good thing” not only for Americans, but also for Israel.

You and Shai, I think, follow a similar path.

Me, I’m a small minority. I believe these American Jews have a surface knowledge of the peace process, where liberalism is their God and “peace” at any price is their direction forward.

Rahm Emmanuel, is the typical Jewish-American liberal. Deeply entrenched in the Democrat Party, active in the liberal Jewish Community, and ready to try anything to get a “peace treaty”.
These jewish political leaders, like all political leaders, play a different game of cards than the people who have to live with the results of their decision-making.

Not that any of this is hypothetical. The Oslo facade was exposed for what it was and the impatient crowds who pleaded with Israel to withdraw from occupied territory without conditions have seen the results in Lebanon and Gaza.

I am glad Obama is preparing for a permanant settlement. The two sides will present their goals and aspirations, and we’ll leave it to Barry and Hillary to iron out the wrinkles, publically, for all Jews and Arabs to hear. We’ll see who is reasonable, and who isn’t.

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April 18th, 2009, 2:29 pm


133. Shai said:


You are comfortable with the new administration’s preoccupation with a “permanent settlement” (or, as we call it here “two states for two people”), just as I am, because we both know nothing will be achieved.

I’m beginning to think that Obama and his experts know this, but realize that making peace with, Syria for instance, cannot occur without the Palestinians in “the background”. Hence the administration’s declared plan of negotiations on multiple tracks in parallel.

My bet is that if Bibi is serious about peace with the Arab world (which is yet to be seen), we’ll see the Golan brought up far sooner than handing back the West Bank. As much as people in this region would like to first see the Palestinian state finally created, the way things look at the moment, I would venture to say it will be the last thing to happen, not the first.

In the meantime, there are a lot of dictatorships and Oslo-like agreements to go for… 🙂

(Did you see Obama’s handshake with Chavez? I guess most American Jews liked that as well…)

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April 18th, 2009, 2:43 pm


134. Yossi said:

AP and Shai,

I find this statement from Emanuel important because it signifies that regardless of whether a solution is found or not, Israel is going to be held accountable for obstructing a solution, e.g. by continuing settlement building and it is also encouraging because Emanuel, as an American Jew, doesn’t feel he needs to get his cues from Jerusalem. It expresses a recognition that Israel is unable to make the right moves and needs to be dictated to, and I very much agree with that.

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April 19th, 2009, 1:04 am


135. norman said:

Shai, Yossi,AP,

People who make peace between Israel and the Palestinians are the saviors of both people , It is time to look beyond today to tomorrow and the day after.

To collect Taxes Syria can start with something , the rich can not hide and they do all the time and that is real estate, the rich in Syria park their money in real Estate , Syria can tax that and that is something that can not be hidden,

One more thing they can do and that is to have a sale tax on non essentials , I believe India is doing that to collect better tax revenue,

They should though increase minimum wage if they have one and increase the salary of government employees,

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April 19th, 2009, 1:55 am


136. Shai said:

The report on our Golan visit is at last finished (Part I): http://1r1f.wordpress.com/2009/04/19/visiting-the-golan-part-i/

Yossi, Norman,

I agree. I was also very happy to hear Emmanuel’s statement, especially as everyone was fearful of his “ties to Israel” earlier this year. I just read in Ha’aretz that Bibi’s idiotic precondition to renewing negotiations with the Palestinians (that they first recognize Israel as “The Jewish State”) was flatly REJECTED by the US Administration. Their response: “Negotiations without Preconditions!” As a party joke, I suggest Obama wear a “General De Gaulle” pin on his suit when meeting Netanyahu in Washington next month…

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April 19th, 2009, 4:05 am


137. norman said:

QN ,what do you think?,

w w w . t u r k i s h w e e k l y . n e t

Hizbullah Projected To Win Lebanese Parliament Majority

Thursday, 23 April 2009

With quiet campaigning and moderate talk, Hizbullah is building its strength for Lebanon’s June 7 parliamentary elections – and the terrorist Shi’ite Muslim group and its allies stand a good chance of winning.

That could mean a stunning shake-up for one of the Middle East’s most volatile countries, replacing a pro-US government with a coalition dominated from behind the scenes by Hizbullah, the proxy of Iran and Syria in Lebanon.

The US ambassador in Beirut has already expressed concern, and Hizbullah’s opponents warn the consequence may be the West isolating Lebanon and Washington reducing its millions in aid.

But Hizbullah, whose name means “Party of God,” has taken the strategy of a low-key election campaign with a moderate message, aiming to show that a victory by its coalition should not scare anyone.

Hizbullah’s leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, has even said that if the coalition wins, it would invite its opponents to join in a national unity government to ensure stability. His deputy, Sheikh Naim Kassem, says the West will have to accept the election results.

Kassem said foreign diplomats are already approaching Hizbullah, “some wanting to open a new page.” Britain has said it is willing to talk to Hizbullah’s “political wing” and a Hizbullah member of the current parliament recently traveled to London.

The moderate tone is in part because Hizbullah does not want to suffer the same fate as Hamas, which won legislative elections in 2006 but was boycotted by the West and crippled by an Israeli-led closure of the Gaza Strip.

“There are pitfalls for winning or losing,” said Hizbullah expert Amal Saad-Ghorayeb. “They (Hizbullah) see the dangers of winning.”

Nevertheless, a Hizbullah win would almost certainly mean changes that would dismay the West and Israel. It would mean less pressure from Lebanon’s government to rein in Hizbullah’s arsenal of rockets pointed at the Jewish state and more backing for efforts to change Lebanon’s electoral system to solidify Shi’ite power further.

Israel’s worry is “whether Iran and Syria will succeed in adding Lebanon to their bloc,” said Israeli political analyst Barry Rubin. “It would be a huge defeat for the West.”

So far, Hizbullah has campaigned quietly, with none of its trademark fiery anti-Israel rallies. Its 11 candidates have been holding town hall meetings in Shi’ite villages, focusing on promises to root out corruption and improve government performance, and stressing government by consensus.

By contrast, leaders from the US-backed majority have held three splashy rallies since February before several thousand people in a Beirut hall, with balloons, confetti and speakers projected on a giant screen.

Nasrallah says Hizbullah knows that trying to dominate Lebanon’s politics would destabilize the country, which in the past four years nearly tumbled into a repeat of the 1975-1990 civil war as the pro-Syrian and pro-US camps struggled for the upper hand.

“In such a sectarian system, it is in the interest of Lebanon and its stability that there is understanding and partnership among Lebanese in running their country’s affairs,” he said in a recent televised speech.

Under Lebanon’s complex political system, no group can rule alone. The 128-member legislature must be half Christian and half-Muslim, with the Christians divided among Orthodox and Catholic parties and Muslims among Shi’ite, Sunni, Druse and Alawite sects. Moreover, in any government, the prime minister must be a Sunni, so Hizbullah would need allies from that sect.

Lebanon’s population of 4 million is roughly divided in thirds between Christians, Sunnis and Shi’ites, with smaller sects mixed in. The exact numbers are unknown because a census would be too politically risky – the last one was held in 1932.

The pro-US bloc – largely Sunnis with Christian allies – holds 70 seats in the 128-member parliament, so a handful of races could tip the balance.

Hizbullah’s 11 candidates will likely win easily given the movement’s overwhelming support among Shi’ites. Its coalition of pro-Syrian, Shi’ite and several Christian parties now has 58 seats in parliament. About 30 seats – from both camps – are reported to be toss-ups. But some political analysts believe Hizbullah’s coalition has a strong chance of winning a majority because smaller electoral districts created since the 2005 election favor its candidates. There are no reliable independent polls in Lebanon.

The leader of the pro-US bloc, Sunni billionaire Saad Hariri, has said a Hizbullah win would “put Lebanon into very difficult times,” threatening its economic growth.

In an interview with Beirut’s Naharnet news Website, US Ambassador Michele Sison warned that American relations with Lebanon – and future US aid – “will be evaluated in the context of the new government’s policies and statements.” Since 2006, the United States has committed over a billion dollars to Lebanon, including $410 million to the country’s security forces.

A victory by the pro-Syrian coalition would likely see Hizbullah pushing to fulfill its campaign promise to eliminate the sectarian distribution of parliament seats, which would boost the power of the growing Shi’ite population. Hizbullah would also see a win as a mandate for its opposition to US Middle East policies and its strong anti-Israeli line.

Turkish Weekly is an USAK Publication. USAK is the leading Ankara based Turkish think-tank.


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April 23rd, 2009, 1:29 pm


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